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Style & Experiences

The latest luxury? A treat from the Louvre

To finance its ongoing solidarity and educational projects, the Louvre is organizing very exclusive auctions with Christie's and Drouot offering bidders pieces by major luxury brands, including the Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin.

Cristina D’Agostino

By Cristina D’Agostino05 décembre 2020

The Louvre Museum and Christie's auction house, with the support of the Hôtel Drouot, are joining forces to organise "Bid for the Louvre", an online auction, the proceeds of which will go to projects in support of the Louvre Museum and the Studio, a new space dedicated to artistic and cultural education that will open in the autumn of 2021. The auction will take place on Christies.com and Drouot from 1 to 15 December 2020 (Le Louvre - Olivier Ouadah).

The trials and tribulations of 2020 have left us few certainties in life, but the Louvre and its immutable treasures are among them. And now, in a unique opportunity, until December 15 some of those treasures from Paris’ iconic museum will be within the reach of many. The online auction “Bid for the Louvre” will put up for sale 24 “exceptional lots” for a good cause. We spoke to Jean-Luc Martinez, Chairman and Director of the Musée du Louvre, about this unprecedented action. “The pandemic affects primarily the most vulnerable members of our society, which makes this project even more necessary. The artistic community and the luxury brands that are close to the Louvre responded unhesitatingly to our call for help, and I am profoundly grateful for that. They know that educational projects are central to the Louvre's activity and the proceeds of this major auction, organized with Christie's and Drouot, will be used to ensure their continuation.”

From Virgil Abloh to Pierre Soulages, the sale is aimed at a very broad public

The selection of the lots was entrusted to, among others, the multidisciplinary designer Virgil Abloh as well as luxury brands like Cartier, Christian Dior Couture, Le Meurice, Le Ritz Paris, Louis Vuitton, Moët Hennessy, Parfums Christian Dior and Vacheron Constantin. Several artists have also agreed to contribute by offering one of their works for auction. These include major names such as Jean-Michel Othoniel and Pierre Soulages, the latter of whom has chosen a 1962 painting expected to fetch between €800,000 and €1.2 million with a starting price of €700,000. But adding to the uniqueness of this auction is, of course, what the Louvre has to offer: a once-in-a-lifetime experience featuring the museum’s most cherished and iconic pieces. Bids for the privilege of attending the annual Mona Lisa unhooking ceremony and watching the experts examine the state of conservation of the world's most famous painting start at €10,000, while a walk on the rooftop of the Louvre with the artist JR will only set you back €5,000.

A cash position under pressure

This prestigious auction, with the proceeds intended to sponsor charitable projects, has also been a tremendously effective communication coup for the museum. It’s a most welcome development in light of the pandemic and the ensuing periods of closure that have inflicted a serious blow to the Louvre’s coffers. In 2019 the museum's resources amounted to €149.5 million, of which 99.1 million from ticket sales. In 2020, Jean-Luc Martinez told the daily newspaper Ouest-France last September, “The financial losses amount to €59 million. The State will allocate €46 million to the museum to help it get through the period 2021-2022, an amount that is in line with what we requested and for which we are grateful.”

The charitable auction also allows luxury brands to associate their image to the immutable prestige of the Louvre. One of the participants, Vacheron Constantin, agreed to answer a few questions to better understand the purpose of the auction. Here is our interview with Laurent Perves, Chief Marketing Officer at Vacheron Constantin since 2016.

Vacheron Constantin: Dial inspired by Veronese’s work Youth and Age (Saturn), created for the Homo Faber exhibition in Venice (Italy) (DR)

How long has the Vacheron Constantin brand been connected to the Louvre?

We signed a cultural partnership with the Louvre a year ago. But we have been in contact since 2016, when we launched a patronage operation for the restoration of the clock “The Creation of the World”. The contract runs for three years, but we are looking at the longer term. Since there are many opportunities for partnerships, we are thinking of creative collaborations, exchanges focused on crafts and know-how. For both parties, restoration is central and rooted in knowledge, and there is certainly much that we can learn together.

Laurent Perves, Chief Marketing Officer at Vacheron Constantin (DR)

How did the idea of the auction come about?

As you know, the Louvre had to close in the spring because of the pandemic. However, the museum's management wanted to keep pursuing ongoing solidarity projects in the field of education and learning. For Vacheron Constantin it is important to be involved in educational projects, particularly the “Studio” one - a space dedicated to art and culture created for the benefit of younger generations often coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.

What item is the brand offering for the auction?

A masterpiece for the wrist. It is a “Les Cabinotiers” piece that the buyer will be able to customize as desired, with a truly unique touch: choosing one artwork from the Louvre that will be reproduced in miniature on the dial using the technique of miniature enamel or grisaille, depending on the selected work. And when the watch is ready, the customer will take possession of it at the Louvre, right next to the actual masterpiece, on a day when the museum is closed to the public. Truly unique.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d'Art – Chagall & l'Opéra de Paris "Tribute to famous composers" watch. Miniature enamel dial reproducing a detail from the ceiling of the Opéra de Garnier in Paris painted by Marc Chagall in 1964 (DR)

How do you feel about the fact that other luxury brands have been invited to participate in the auction?

Going beyond commercial competition for a noble cause, and seeing different luxury brands come together to offer the finest expression of their know-how is important; this can only generate more interest for the auction itself. And let me stress that the hammer price will be entirely collected by the Louvre, with no commission for the auction houses. There is no commercial objective, it is a solidarity project. It was Christie's that set the starting prices and for the Vacheron Constantin watch, the estimate was between €100,000 and €300,000 with a starting price of €80,000.

Are customers already contacting you for this sale?

Christie's has informed us that several customers are interested.

What would be the normal price of a watch like that for you?

Example of model: The Three Graces, goddesses of plant life and beauty, companions of the god Apollo /2nd century AD Heads restored in 1609 by the sculptor Nicolas Cordier Discovered on Mount Caelius in Rome (Italy) (DR)

It depends on the optional features, but the price is generally between 150,000 and 350,000 francs, with an additional intangible value in this case that is linked to the unique experience. These watches are manufactured in very small quantities: only about fifty unique Les Cabinotiers watches leave our workshops every year.

Is this auction an opportunity for you to reach out to new customers?

This auction to us is not a media operation. We are very active at auctions, so we are familiar to collectors. We ourselves are major clients of the auctions, since we own several thousand antique watches. We put them in our own collection or we restore them, give them a new certificate and then offer them to collectors. It is a very successful exercise. However, in this case it is also patrons who will be attending, so it is an opportunity for us to showcase our know-how.

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